As Bluetooth and the various iterations of 802.11 grab most of the wireless home-networking headlines, another lesser-known protocol is becoming a force, although more quietly.
That wireless platform is Whitecap, a proprietary protocol developed by Sharewave Inc. that may soon become part of the forthcoming Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11e wireless-networking specification.
Sharewave is offering Whitecap to the standards body on a royalty-free basis. The company is also participating in CableHome, a home-networking initiative spearheaded by Cable Television Laboratories Inc.
The 802.11e spec will likely emerge from IEEE ratification containing key pieces of Whitecap that address quality of service (QoS), multimedia transport and other significant elements not intrinsic to 802.11b, which touts throughputs of up to 11 megabits per second.
The 802.11a protocol, which embeds QoS, is expected to tap out at a blistering 54 mbps.
"They'll have a common MAC (media-access control) solution. They'll be cousins," said Allied Business Intelligence Inc. vice president of residential and networking technologies Navin Sabharwal.
Speed is a home-networking priority for the transmission of large rich-media files, but QoS is vitally important in transferring low-latency applications such as voice and video. In those environments, data must arrive at its destination on time.
"Packet loss is not a big deal with a print job or an e-mail, but with video or audio you don't want skips, stutters and pops," said Sharewave vice president of marketing Bob Bennett. "Whitecap will take a stream and guarantee it will run interrupted from other streams over the wireless connection."
As on a freeway during rush hour, Whitecap's QoS technology "draws the lanes and the roads for predictable delivery and ensures that streams don't interfere with one another," Bennett said.
Whitecap uses two levels of QoS: one that prioritizes streams and another that guarantees they are handled within appropriate bandwidth and latency parameters. It's expected that a ratified 802.11e will support both levels.
Although Whitecap will enter the 802.11e fold, some minor interoperability issues with 802.11b remain. That's because the first generation of Whitecap runs over an 802.11b radio, but uses a Whitecap MAC, meaning equipment based on that protocol can't communicate directly with other 802.11b devices.
The remedy for that problem will appear in the next version of Whitecap — a platform dubbed Bodega — which will incorporate 802.11b MAC features and communicate with any 802.11b-based networking gear, Bennett said. Whitecap 2 technology is shipping in sample quantities at present, but will move to volume production sometime this quarter. Commercial rollout is set for the fourth quarter, he added.
So, what's in it for Sharewave, since it's practically giving Whitecap away?
Wide adoption of the technology is one advantage. "We wanted to eliminate barriers to adoption of the 11e standard," Bennett said. "We still feel that we have a big competitive advantage."
Sharewave would likely be looking at its rivals from the rear view mirror, at least in terms of implementation know-how. Getting it down on paper is one thing, but incorporating the technology into something that actually works takes time.
Two consumer-electronics manufacturers have already implemented Whitecap-based silicon and software. Panasonic Consumer Electronics houses the technology in its KX-HGC200 wireless-network card and, just this month, Netgear said it would put Whitecap inside its new family of wireless home-networking equipment.